Bull Run Battlefield gets an app
By Michael E. Ruane,
Garry Adelman, historian, battlefield guide and high-octane Civil War guy, is standing under a tree on Henry Hill holding his smartphone.
Around him, the rolling hills and woods of the Bull Run battlefield sprawl for miles, and a warm breeze bears the smell of mowed grass and the lore of the first big clash of the war.
But Adelman doesn’t need his imagination to envision what happened here, just outside Manassas. He’s got the whole story in the palm of his hand. Well, maybe not the smell of the place. But that could be next, he laughs.
Downloaded onto his iPhone is the new Bull Run Battle App, a whiz-bang application that packs text, video, audio, old photos and animated maps into a GPS-enabled, state-of-the-art pocket guide.
No more can the kids cry “boooring” on the battlefield.
Produced by the Civil War Trust and the state of Virginia, the battle app was unveiled Tuesday at the National Park Service’s Henry Hill Visitor Center, a week before the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run.
The app, designed for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, is free. The trust has similar apps for the battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.
Using its Global Positioning System feature, the Bull Run app can show the user’s location on a battlefield map. It provides an overview of the fight, video explanations by historians, and audio accounts — read by actors — of soldiers who fought there.
It also has a timeline of the battle, lists of units that fought, and photographs old and new of battlefield scenes and participants. The engagement, fought on July 21, 1861, was a defeat for the Union army.
With a new study reporting that one-third of Americans now own smartphones, officials said they believe that the Battle App harnesses history and technology in ways that will enrich the national narrative.
“We live in an age of technology,” said Jim Lighthizer, president of the trust. “We’re also in the business of teaching people about history. So when you combine cutting-edge technology with . . . real history on a real battlefield, you’ve got a winning combination.”
Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia’s transportation secretary, said: “I’ve walked around this battlefield with my kids, trying to explain to them what happened here. . . . It’s very difficult to do that with books and with the maps.
“You go with this application,” he said. “You pop it open. You have somebody explain to you exactly what happened here. You can look at the maps and see what units were there. It makes this battlefield . . . come alive.”
Next week, thousands of visitors and reenactors are expected to descend on the Manassas area to mark the anniversary.
Adelman, a licensed tour guide at the Gettysburg battlefield for 16 years and the Washington-based trust’s director of history and education, said the first questions people ask when they visit a battlefield are: “Where am I? What am I looking at?”
The app answers those questions — and many more, he said.
“As a longtime guide, I can tell you there are never enough guides to meet the demand,” he said. “This takes not only a step but a giant leap forward to that personal experience that connects [visitors] to the Battle of Bull Run, the Civil War or our history.”
Under the tree outside the visitor center, Adelman demonstrated. First, he said, “we want people to click on the map,” then hit the GPS button, which will show where they are on the battlefield.
The app will show nearby “points of interest,” he said. There are also 13 formal tour stops indicated on the app.
Soldiers’ accounts, such as that of Confederate Pvt. Randolph McKim’s describing the dry, dusty run to the sound of the booming guns, can be heard. Adelman appears in several explanatory videos.
Some people might look only at the app’s videos, he said. “Other people might just look at the photos. We want to cover everybody’s window into the Civil War.”